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New Fresno Theatre Company Presents The Sins of Sor Juana

IN THE April 24 ISSUE

FROM THE 2019 Articles,
andLorie Lewis Ham,
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by Lorie Lewis Ham

There is a new theatre company in Fresno; Near/Far Theatre is producing its first show, The Sins of Sor Juana, opening this weekend. We took a moment to chat with one of the company’s founders, Julie Reimer, about this new adventure and the show.

KRL: What inspired you to start this new theatre company and who all is involved?

Julia: It was probably during my 2-year sabbatical and study leave in New York about 6 years ago that some creative ideas related to Near/Far Theatre started to percolate. But then I returned to full-time teaching and directing at Fresno Pacific University and didn’t have the time to follow through. It was sort of the perfect storm of an opportunity when I left the full-time position last May, and had the time to start building the infrastructure for this new theater entity in Fresno.

KRL: Your title with the theatre company?

Julia: I think of myself as a “collaboration coordinator.” One of the things Near/Far is committed to is the idea of partnering with artists and entities in the community to produce work that explores “what brings us together and breaks us apart,” with an emphasis on telling under-told stories and creating spaces for dialogue, celebration, and understanding. We’ll be doing that through theater AND performance, which means that yes, we’ll do plays. But we might also work with collaborators in the area of dance. Poetry, music… Most of the artists I know don’t do just one art—they’re painter-musicians, or actor-photographers, or dancer-singers. I love that. Art without boundaries. I think of my role at Near/Far as being the point person who helps create the right circumstances where collaborators can come together to make interesting art exploring our theme.

KRL: This will be your first production, correct? How did you end up picking this show?

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Sor Juana (Karen Vargas)

Julia: Yes, our first production. I had read Karen Zacarias’ play a few years ago when I was script-reading for the Fresno Pacific Theatre season. It wasn’t the right time to do the play then, but some of the images from the play lingered with me. And I was fascinated by Sor Juana; I teach about her as a playwright in one of my World Theater courses. Then last year, when I was finishing up the full-time position at FPU, I had a senior student, Karen Vargas, who was graduating and I really wanted to work on another production with her. She was the perfect Juana Ines. I pulled together some other actors I have loved working with before, scouted a few more, and here we are. We are excited to introduce Sor Juana to those who don’t know her and, for those who do, Zacarias’ play is an evocative imagining of the mystery that Juana Inés was. The play doesn’t touch on all her characteristics, but in life, she was a poet, a dramatist, a nun, a scholar, a bookkeeper, a theologian (which got her in trouble), a cook, a charmer, a contradiction. She is one of Mexico’s and Latin America’s most influential literary icons.

KRL: Can you give us a brief description of the show?

Julia: What we know from history is that Juana Ins was a favorite in the 17th century court, known for her beauty and wit, but she chose to join a convent in her late teens/early 20s. At the start of Zacarias’ play, Sor Juana sends a letter to the Bishop of Puebla that sets a series of drastic events into motion. The letter and reactions to it dredge up Juana’s memories of being 16 years old again and back at the Viceroy’s court. The play is full of poetry, passion, drama, mystery.

KRL: Do you have open auditions?

Julia: We won’t be doing traditional play auditions, at least not initially. The projects tend to drive who the collaborators are. We’ll do Artist Calls though, as projects evolve and opportunities are created. A great way to connect will be to follow the Facebook and Instagram sites, and we hope to have a website up soon. We want to partner with both artists and entities in the community, so we are absolutely open to people bringing their ideas and creative projects to us. As long as the work fits with the Near/Far mission of “exploring what brings us together and breaks us apart.” Drop us a line at our email address nftfresno@gmail[dot]com.

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Maria Monreal and Viri Hussain-Leon in “The Sins of Sor Juana”

KRL: What have been some of the challenges of putting this show together?

Julia: Building infrastructure the first time out always takes time. Theatre is always collaborative and takes a village. But when the work is partnership-based, there are that many more conversations that have to occur—about venue, about para-theatrical projects (we’re doing a small video Sor Juana Poetry Project since April is National Poetry Month), all the little extras that promote community and dialogue around a project.

KRL: What has been the most fun and/or exciting?

Julia: The collaboration with the actors/artists/partners is terribly exciting. And everyone’s passion for this project. We operate like a collective, as one of the actors commented, with less division of roles than one might sometimes associate with a typical play production. Our Viceroy (Edgar Olivera) is a fabulous photographer and also designed our graphics. Our Vicereine (Maria Monreal) is choreographing a movement section. Our costume designer stage-managing. The best actor-calligrapher gets to prep our 17th century book covers. Cross-stitching is happening on the sidelines by our nuns. It creates a cozy rehearsal space, and balances my Type A style in healthy ways! It’s also exciting to collaborate with a composer on music for a piece—I’ve done that a few times before on shows. We are lucky to have local composer EJ Hinojosa, who composed the wonderful ‘Triptych’ from this year’s Rogue, as our resident composer for the play.

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Sor Juana (Karen Vargas) and Silvio (Daniel Serrano)

KRL: Do you know yet what other shows you will be producing this year?

Julia: A Forum Theater event? Dance show? Another play project? There are ideas stewing and collaborations suggested, but nothing solid yet!

KRL: Date, times, location for this show and where tickets can be purchased?

Julia: May 3-4, 10-11 (Friday, Saturday) at 8 pm. May 5 and 12 (Sunday) at 7:30 pm, at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church, 2529 Willow, Clovis, CA 93612. WAMC is our generous sponsor and venue donor for this drama on tensions between art and church.

Tickets at brownpapertickets.com / General $15, Students $12 / www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4210101

On Saturday, May 4, there will be a Talk-back after the show with the cast and Dr. Maria Dolores Morillo, Sor Juana scholar and professor at CSU Fresno.

On Saturday, May 11, a Talk-back will focus on our Near/Far theme of “what brings us together and breaks us apart.” If there are local artists who have been a part of a faith community (past or present, any religion, currently believing or not) and who have felt that they couldn’t express the fullness of their artistic gift within that community or tradition, we’d love to hear from you at nftfresno@gmail.com. The Talk-back will explore how we connect Sor Juana’s artistic story to what artists may experience today in similar contexts.

If you love local theatre, be sure to check out our new Mysteryrat’s Maze Podcast, which features mysteries read by local actors. The first 18 episodes are now up! You can check the podcast out on iTunes and Google Play, and also on podbean. Julia has been the reader for several of our podcast episodes.

Check out more theatre reviews & other local entertainment articles in our Arts & Entertainment section.

Lorie Lewis Ham is our Editor-in-Chief and a contributor to various sections, coupling her journalism experience with her connection to the literary and entertainment worlds. Explore Lorie’s mystery writing at Mysteryrat’s Closet.

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